After a lot of delays and setbacks, the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), resumed on the 14th of August, 2012 at the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is the first time the Prosecutor is opening an investigation in which allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings.
Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in 2008 in response to a warrant from the ICC, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes relating to alleged MLC atrocities committed in the Central African Republic. His trial in The Hague began on November 22, 2010.
The Pre-Trial Chamber decided on June 15, 2009 that there was enough evidence to proceed to a full trial of Mr. Bemba on five criminal counts related to events in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003.
Two of these charges are for crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three for war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). The Prosecutor, Senior Trial Attorney Petra Kneuer, alleges that Mr. Bemba is responsible for these crimes carried out by his MLC militia in various locations in the Central African Repbulic.
This is the first case before the ICC where three female judges have sat on the bench. The presiding judge, Sylvia Steiner from Brazil, has expertise and training in women’s rights. Her colleagues are Judge Kuniko Ozaki from Japan and Judge Joyce Aluoch from Kenya. Thus, female judges from Latin America, Asia, and Africa will adjudicate this historic ICC trial focused on gender crimes.
Involvment of the MLC militia in the Central African Republic
In 2002 Ange-Félix Patassé, President of the Central African Republic from 1993 until 2003, sought help from different militia groups, including Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC, against his former chief of staff, François Bozizé. MLC forces crossed the border from the DRC, succeeding in pushing Bozizé’s forces back to the north of the capital. For its part, the MLC remained in CAR for five months. The Prosecutor alleges that MLC fighters went on a rampage, committing crimes of murder, rape and pillaging against residents of CAR. According to reports from international organizations, human rights organizations and journalists, civilians in the CAR have continued to suffer immensely from violence after 2003. There are an estimated 100,000 CAR refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Sudan, and another 100,000 who are internally displaced. There have been allegations of atrocities committed by various rebel factions and by government forces.
Rape as a weapon of war
According to the Prosecutor, “The allegations of sexual crimes are detailed and substantiated. The information we have now suggests that the rape of civilians was committed in numbers that cannot be ignored under international law.”
André Tabo, an expert witness, in April testified on the use of rape as a tool of war. The head of the psychiatry department at the national university hospital in Bangui, he stated that Congolese soldiers raped Central African women for numerous reasons: They were “punishing” them for supporting rebels, considered them “attractive war booty,” wanted to destabilize enemy troops, and for sexual release. He said that since the troops were out of control, they considered that they could do whatever they wanted.
Dr. Tabo’s said amongst 512 rape survivors he worked with, 42 percent had been raped in front of family members. He said 81 of them were found to be HIV-positive, ten of them having been infected during the rape. According to the expert, all survivors said their attackers were MLC fighters.
The proceeding of this case will definitely be a landmark for applying justice and insuring accountability for perpetrators of rape and other crimes of sexual violence in conflict.
For an update on the trial, please check out the monitoring site of the trial, run by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
ICC judges from left: Robert Fremr Anthony T. Carmona Howard Morrison, Olga Herrera Carbuccia and Chile Eboe-Osuji. Photo: ICC
Every year on July 17, the world celebrates World Day for International Justice, also known as International Criminal Justice Day, in recognition of the emerging system of international criminal justice. On the same day in 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted by 120 States, thereby creating the international treaty that is the legal basis for establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Rome Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002, upon being ratified by 60 States, and the ICC officially started its activities.
The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, and thereby prevent future occurrences of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. The Court is a fully functional institution supported by 121 States Parties.
Over the past ten years, the ICC has become a fully functional institution, with 15 cases having been brought before the Court, 6 of which are at the trial stage. ICC judges have issued 20 arrest warrants and 6 arrests have been made; they also issued nine summonses to appear, all of which have been honoured. On 14 March 2012, the ICC rendered its first verdict in the case The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo; the accused was found guilty of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 into military forces, and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
In June 2012 Gambian Fatou Bensouda has been appointed new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, after serving as ICC’s Deputy Prosecutor on Prosecutions since 2004. The Office of the Prosecutor is conducting investigations in seven situations, Uganda, the DRC, CAR, Darfur (Sudan), Kenya, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as seven preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Honduras, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea and Guinea.
This year marks the ICC’s 10-year anniversary, and on this occasion a new website was launched to commemorate the milestone event.
In commemoration of World Day for International Justice, Amnesty International has also launched its global Campaign for International Justice: “Demand Justice Now” to ensure access to justice, truth and reparation for victims of crimes under international law around the world through the creation of an effective system of international justice. According to Amnesty, the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, has sent a clear message around the world that failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes at the national level, will not be tolerated. The challenge now is to ensure that this new international justice system succeeds in practice.
Amnesty International’s Campaign for International Justice aims at getting more states to ratify and implement The Rome Statute, encouraging governments and intergovernmental organisations to provide the ICC with full cooperation and support and forcing more national authorities to exercise universal jurisdiction to ensure their countries are not safe havens for perpetrators of crimes under international law.
Gambian Fatou Bensouda has been appointed new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. One of her chosen priorities is to develop a strong gender policy.
Fatou Bensouda. © Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images.
- Massive crimes continue to be committed in Darfur; Joseph Kony and the Lord Resistance Army’s acts of violence continue unabated in central Africa; Bosco Ntaganda is still a fugitive of the ICC. In total, 11 arrest warrants remain outstanding. Nothing short of arresting all those against whom warrants have been issued will ensure that justice is done for millions of victims of the crimes committed by these fugitives, Fatou Bensouda said in her acceptance speach.
- It (the office of the Prosecutor) will in particular (…) continue to look for innovative methods for the collection of evidence to bring further gender crimes and crimes against children to the Court to ensure effective prosecutions of these crimes while respecting and protecting their victims.
“Signals new era”
Fatou Bensouda has served as ICC’s Deputy Prosecutor on Prosecutions since 2004. Besides from promoting the development of a gender policy, she also has named reviewing the quality and efficiency of investigations and prosecutions and clarifying the process through which the office selects where it will conduct investigations, as issues she will focus on during her time in office.
Amnesty International welcomed Bensouda’s stated priorities and said that the inaugeration of her ”signals a new era in international justice and the potential for a more robust approach to their (the ICC’s) prosecution strategy”. The organization has previously called parts of the ICC’s prosecution strategy too restrictive, as with the case of Thomas Lubanga, who was only charged with crimes regarding the recruitment of child soldiers and not the other crimes, including sexual violence, that he was accused of.
The ICC is currently investigating crimes in Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Libya, the Darfur region of Sudan and Uganda. It is examining allegations of crimes in seven other situations in order to determine whether to open investigations: Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Republic of Korea, Honduras and Nigeria.
- Lubanga is convicted, that’s good. But there are worse war criminals walking free, protected by the government. That makes it harder for us to trust in the legal system, comments Christian Sango from the Congolese organization CEDEJ – that works to strengthen young girls’ rights and opportunities – after the first conviction ever in the International Criminal Court, ICC.
Goma in Eastern Congo is one of the places where several war crime perpetrators are still living, having ordinary lives. Many of them have not yet been prosecuted. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Thomas Lubanga was one of the war lords fighting in the violent Ituri conflict in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A reported number of 70 000 people lost their lives in the war that took place 2000-2003. This March Thomas Lubanga was convicted in the ICC for having recruited child soldiers to his armed group, Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC.
Prosecutes war crimes
The ICC was established in 1998, creating a way for the international community to be able to prosecute war crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first conviction ever in the ICC and it is internationally acknowledged as a mile stone in the fight against impunity after armed conflict. But at the same time the Lubanga case has been critizised for leaving out many of the crimes that the former war lord is suspected of.
- He is guilty of so many other atrocities, like sexual violence against women and abuse of kidnapped girls. But sure, the conviction is a signal, a warning to other criminals in DR Congo, says Aurelie Bitondo from the organization REFAMP.
No help for raped women
- For those of us who work with the victims, and to get the perpetrators prosecuted, this conviction is frustrating. I think of all the people who were killed in the war and the women who were raped. The women are alive today, but they have never gotten any help with health care or being payed damages. For them the conviction has little effect – many of them don’t even know about it, says Julienne Lusenge, who grew up in Ituri and now works for SOFEPADI.
Another leader still free
At the same time as Thomas Lubanga, Bosco Ntaganda – the leader of another armed group called National Congress for the Defence of the People, CNDP – was prosecuted. But Ntagandas case has not lead to any conviction. In an effort to stop the armed conflict in Eastern DR Congo, CNDP’s troups were merged with the Congolese forces, which suddenly made Ntaganda a commander of the national army. A fact that has upset many people.
- Ntaganda can visit restaurants, play tennis and lead a good life in Goma. He is protected by the government and President Kabila. To prosecute him is crucial for people to be able to trust in the legal system. He has many lives on his concience, he was called ”The Terminator” during the war in Ituri, says Christian Sango.
Thomas Lubanga’s sentence will be announced within the next couple of weeks.
The International Criminal Court (for Rwanda) was first with defining rape during armed conflict as a crime against humanity. More on this in women and armed conflict.